A blog on issues affecting Australia's newsagents, media and small business generally.

New York Daily News plays catch up

This story published today by the New York Daily News reports on the brilliant mock documentary, Epic 2014 produced by Robin Sloan and Mark Thompson.

This is a catch up story for the New York Daily News since Epic 2014 has been around since late last year and widely reported at online news sites and in countless blogs. While soft in its analysis of the power of Epic, the report at least provides a link so readers can mke their own assessment.

These two pars from the article provide context for the article:

The mockumentary arrives at a time of unusually high anxiety for the news industry. Publishers are nervous – some would say paralyzed with fright – over polls showing that young adults are not reading papers.

Rupert Murdoch, speaking at the recent convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, warned that newspapers risked being “relegated to the status of also-rans” if they don’t make use of the Internet.

Viewing Epic 2014 ought to be compulsory for everyone remotely connected with the news and information supply chain.

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The Coles Magazine Distribution Trial

The Australian Financial Review today publishes a report (p 47) by Neil Shoebridge about a 12 week trial of a centralised magazine distribution system in 12 Victorian Coles supermarkets. The report claims a 20% kick in sales of magazines whereas for the same period other Coles stores reported a 1% kick in sales of magazines.

Coles wants more control over the range and quantity of product it sells. The article documents the challenge of this process for traditional magazine distributors – Network, NDD and Gotch. The greater control, according to the article, is being sought over returns. It says that a more efficient returns system might dust distributor revenue by $4 million.

One anonymous senior magazine industry executive is quoted as saying “Magazine distribution needs to be a push system, not a pull system, because we know the business better than the retailers.” My own experience is that such a claim is nonsense. That my own newsagency and many I know sell out of TOP 50 titles with half the shelf life of an issue to go get we return more than 50% of the BOTTOM 1,000 titles suggests that the push system is failing. It may not be failing for the distributors but it is failing for newsagents and other retailers as the AFR article suggests.

In my shop, year on year, we have achieved growth of between 28% and 35%. In the top selling women’s weeklies segment our sales growth is in excess of 50%. We would have achieved more had we been able to get the product to sell.

So, here is the newsagency channel starving for oxygen when our major competitors, supermarkets, are able to engage in trials of supply chain alternatives which better serve their needs.

I cannot provide a link to the AFR article because of their policy of making online content available only by subscription.

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A different supply chain story

The rapidly shrinking distance between manufacturer (journalist) and consumer is observed often here. Here is an excellent example of technology having the potential to turn book publishing (and possibly book sales) upside down.

The process of finding a publisher has always been a bit of a mystery to authors and some would note that too often good words are left unpublished while less deserving projects get up. A new website, Browse Books, looks set to have a positive impact because it takes some of the mystery out of the process and connects authors more directly with people who will give their works life through physical or electronic publishing.

Authors submit their manuscripts to this Browse, and work with affiliated editors to tidy up their projects. They are submitted to content and service providers to produce the book. Connect this print on demand techno logy and the book supply chain is a fraction of what it is today and the time to get new product to market much shorter.

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Younger people and newspapers

Newspaper sales are in trouble and the biggest problem seems to be with the 18-34 demographic. Thanks to an excellent blog entry at www.editorsweblog.org I have found this excellent report by Greg Gatlin of the Boston Herald. In a recent visit to a journalism class at an American college he asked them about their own media habits. I’m not surprised to read that these students want news to be free and more accessible.

Publishers have a fine line to walk. They want to connect with the demographic yet it has to be on commercial terms.

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Reporting Change: the media and innovation

People living in Melbourne (Australia) have an excellent opportunity next week to hear two world leaders (Jay Rosen and Lance Knobel , speak on matters often discussed in this place – the media and innovation.

Here’s the description from the Deakin Lectures website:

How responsive is the mainstream media to innovation? If the photocopier made publishers of nearly everyone, what are the effects of the Internet, SMS messaging and other forms of innovative technology having on the media itself?

Anyone involved in the news and information business should attend this lecture. It promises to be the most insightful forward thinking material we will have heard in this country on this topic for a long time.

Entry is free. Get there half an hour beforehand.

You can get a preview of Jay Rosen’s speech at Press Think (an excellent blog by Rosen about journalism) and in particular in the entry – Each Nation its Own Press. Jay Rosen teaches Journalism at New York University, where has been on the faculty since 1986. He lives in New York City.

Australia’s 4,600 newsagents have built their businesses around their vital and contracted role in the news and information supply chain. The rapid changes in how consumers access news and information will impact newsagents yet as independent small business operators the channel is not likely to have a unified strategy to deal with the change. Newsagent suppliers will evolve their business models to suit the best interests of their shareholders. Newsagents must evolve their business models as well. Planning for such evolution will be well served by attending this lecture.

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Another Newspaper to Launch Podcasts

Today (Fri. May 6) The Philadelphia Daily News commences podcasting. Here’s what part of the announcement on their website says:

“Well, starting tomorrow, you can find out. The paper is launching PhillyFeed, a program of news, on-the-street interviews, original music, sports talk – stuff “we could NEVER print in the paper,” say the people behind it. … a bar, at a ballgame, or wherever.”

Here’s a newspaper entering the audio broadcast space. No big surprise there given what’s happened in Denver earlier this week. What is interesting is that they are extending beyond what they would print. This will help extend their brand away from being considered a newspaper brand.

There are some in publishing companies who say these developments will not impact their newspaper business. Others disagree. No one can know for sure. However, greater accessibility and mobile single story accessibility will make the brand more available to the all important 18-34 demographic. As access technology evolves and we can get content on more portable and reader and listener friendly devices without wire connections newspaper sales will be impacted by the changes.

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What Magazine Publishers Talk About

The Magazine Publishers of America website is a goldmine of information about magazines and while it’s designed for publishers, independent magazine retailers will find plenty of good ideas. They have posted a link to this article in the Wilson Quarterly publication which paints a bleak picture about the future of mainstream media. Here’s the opening paragraph which several commentators have found alarming:

“It’s premature to write an obituary, but there’s no question that America’s news media—the newspapers, newsmagazines, and television networks that people once turned to for all their news—are experiencing what psychologists might call a major life passage. They’ve seen their audiences shrink, they’ve had to worry about vigorous new competitors, and they’ve suffered more than a few self-inflicted wounds—scandals of their own making. They know that more and more people have lost confidence in what they do. To many Americans, today’s newspaper is irrelevant, and network news is as compelling as whatever is being offered over on the Home Shopping Network. Maybe less.”

It’s good to see the MPA engaging in dialogue about the changing world by drawing attention to pieces like this now in the Wilson Quarterly. We need to extend the discussion to considering the impact of changes on the supply chain, the long term partners of publishers.

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Magazine Promotion Still Strong 8 Months In

Eight months ago we launched our Magazine Club Card promotion in an effort to boost magazine sales in our retail shop. Very quickly we were experiencing 35% growth. We expected, as if often the case with such promotions, that sales would settle and the increase drop back to around 10%. Not so, today, eight months in, we’re tracking 28% growth in magazine sales in year on year same period comparisons.

In addition to the magazine sales growth we’re also tracking growth in greeting cards, stationery and newspapers – decent chunks of which is attributable to the Magazine Club Card.

The Magazine Club Card promotion is run in or shop without any external or in store promotion except for the offering across the counter of a club card with an 8 week life.

In a channel where magazine sales have grown, on average, 6% in the last year, our sales growth of 28% – 35% each month for the last eight month without any store changes is most significant. We’re aware of winning additional sales as well as stealing sales from other magazine outlets.

The mechanics of the campaign are simple and the rewards quickly accessible to our customers. It is a far more valuable loyalty campaign than any offered by the major retailers of magazines we compete with.

The success has come from simplicity of the offer and total employee engagement.

This is a good small business success story.

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Chicago TV Station: First to Podcast

Podcasting News says Chicago’s NBC5 claims they are the “first major market TV station in the country to offer daily podcasts”. While they’re still settling in with how they will use the technology, it’s good to see a mainstream TV station join in. Very slick production. The only complaint is the 15MB download. It would be helpful to select by story rather than a whole newscast. But otherwise great!

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Newspaper launches podcast of news

The innovative Denver Post has just launched daily podcasts as reported in this story. The Post has a team of audio journalists producing the podcasts. Access is free.

Daily podcasts are available for: ALL NEWS; LOCAL NEWS; NATION/WORLD NEWS; BUSINESS NEWS; SPORTS. There will be occasional features. The quality is good as are the production values.

On a broadband connection downloading all news takes less than a minute, load this on to a memory stick or direct to your iPod and you’re mobile with an audio newspaper from a respected news source. This is the kind of innovation Rupert Murdoch was talking about when speaking last month at the ASNE conference. This innovation will facilitate a greater connect with younger readers for the Denver Post.

So what is this? Denver Post is a newspaper. It has a good website. Now it’s in the audio business producing news programs for people on the move. Having the stories updated during the day and on a portable device will make listening to radio news redundant. So, the Denver Post is a newspaper, a website, an audio producer (think news radio station).

More important, the Denver Post move separates the stories from the package, from the newspaper. This is the kind of disaggregation I have been writing about here. It frees the stories. Whereas years ago the Denver Post was a newspaper, today it is a brand operating in several mediums.

Watch for more of this from mainstream media outlets across the globe. This story on Chris Chin’s blog at seattlepi.com (from the Seattle Post-Intelligencier) lists other newspapers offering podcasting. There is a challenge for radio and a challenge to their own newspaper product.

Thinking locally (in Australia) now, this move must be of concern to Australia’s 4,600 independently owned newsagents. We are a key part of the news and information supply chain. In the Denver Post model there is no supply chain to speak of. The publisher has a direct and easy connect with the consumer. If I were a publisher I’d do the same thing. We (newsagents) need to find our own relevance in the changing world. Publishers will put their needs ahead of ours in building future business models. We should not expect them to create models which support our businesses unless doing so is relevant to them.

One strategy crucial to our future is a deeper connect with our local community. This is why we are developing our citizen journalism project LocalNews Daily.

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Digital newspaper project

Interesting article about a 10 week project at the University of Missouri School of Journalism aimed at evaluating a new format for electronic newspapers. The format, dubbed Electronic Media Print (EmPrint) is expected to be commercially available later this year. The result is a PDF file of the newspaper. The product is designed specifically for computer access.

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Backfence the best local citizen journalism site

Backfence.com goes live today and already it’s looking good. The site covers the local issues we plan to cover in our LocalNews Daily online community. They go beyond and into advertising, yellow pages and the like – areas not on our radar at present. The site is very clean and easy to use.

Stories on Backfence have been posted by local residents. Many say this is the way of local news in the future. Who wants to read a homogenised local paper stuffed in your letterbox as a conduit for advertising when you can have something like this which is more about the news than anything else?

Here is an interview with the founder, Mark Potts which sheds more light on backfence.

Backfence sets a new benchmark in hyper local citizen journalism.

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LocalNews Daily update

We start tomorrow engaging with potential contributors by handing out flyers to invite content submission. We’ll do this first across the counter in our newsagency where we see between 10,000 and 12,000 customers a week. We need to walk before we run and thought this very local contributor invitation was a good starting point. While we could have stuffed letterboxes with flyers we figured that sort of defeats one purpose of our mission.

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Free newspapers update

At boston.com is an article by Mark Jurkowitz about the Examiner newspapers being home delivered free to homes in affluent areas in Washington and San Francisco. Here’s a good description by Jurkowitz:

The paper has developed a unique formula. It is a graphically snappy tabloid with a focus on local news and conservative-leaning opinion pages produced by a small staff. It is distributed free to households with incomes of more than $75,000. Examiner executives say the goal is not to knock out their more powerful rivals, The Washington Post, (700,000 daily circulation) and the San Francisco Chronicle (480,000). Rather, the goal is to appeal to readers looking for an easier-reading alternative to the big metro daily and to attract advertisers who can efficiently target dollars to reach high-income consumers.

This is a story US newspaper publishers are watching very closely. Will the Examiner model of bypassing the costs of customer acquisition and careful socio-economic targeting work? Will advertisers support the model long term? Teething problems aside, this story at boston.com and others in recent times suggest that the Examiner model has legs in major cities in the US.

In Australia, 4,600 newsagents play a key role in the home delivery of newspapers. We do so for a share of cover price and a per item delivery fee. An Examiner model here would flip the current home delivery model upside down with immediate economic impact on newsagents.

Being a cog in the supply chain, in any industry, at the moment is challenging.

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World first general classified video ads

Thanks to an item at poynter.org, I found this world first: a general classified site allowing advertisers to upload video clips. More than 600 ads have been loaded at Speurders.nl already. We’ve seen it before in specialist sites but not a general site such as this.

While some clips are of doubtful value, others make you wonder why it’s taken so long for general online classifieds to offer this innovation. Maybe that’s because newspapaer publishers control the online advertising space.

Some advertisers have created interesting video productions with good commercial qualities – and that opens a whole new opportunity.

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Warren Buffett on newspapers

Interesting to read the report today at washingtonpost.com on comments by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. chief executive Warren Buffett made at a three hour news conference following their annual meeting.

“The economics for newspapers are worse now than they used to, and the prospects are worse,” said Buffett, a long-time director and large shareholder of The Washington Post Co.

Buffett said declines in circulation result from readers turning to alternative sources , such as free Web sites and television. And he said owning the dominant news Web site in a region is not enough to guarantee sustained profitability for newspaper firms.

Comments from Buffett cause whole industries to react. He has been lauded as an investment guru and visionary for decades. It will be interesting to see how others report his comments. The Washington Post article does not report answer to what would have been the most obvious question: if newspapers are declining, what’s next? He did discuss his investment in Buffalo where he has investment in a newspaper and a website and said “We’ve got the best position, but it isn’t remotely like owning the paper 30 years ago.”

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FHM on radio, TV and the Net?

Dan Milmo from The Guardian reported a few weeks ago:

Emap has created a separate radio division in a shake-up that will see more of its top-selling magazines move from sales racks to multichannel TV, mobile phones and online.

This serves as further evidence that the brand is the thing. Not the product you currently associate with the brand.

Publishers are right to position mastheads in multiple mediums. The challenge is for those businesses (like Australian newsagents) with models rooted in just one medium (print) to ensure relevance in the future.

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Collaborative citizen journalism

Wikinews is a news portal created and run by volunteers. It’s citizen journalism on an international scale and is somwwhat of a model for all of us interested in the space.

One key challenge they are yet to overcome is the time taken to review stories submitted. If the delay remains of the current length, Wikinews will be more of a place of analysis and in depth pieces than what we know as traditional news stories.

This topic is of interest to us as we contemplate our approach we will take with our own LocalNews daily citizen journalism project. We’re of the conclusion that if we’re serious about this we need to have the right tools to check facts and present the stories professionally.

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Newspapers on newspapers

In his op ed piece, Alas, Poor Newspapers! We Knew Them, Rupert, Richard Brookhiser writing in The New York Observer presents his analysis of the future of newspapers following the recent speech by Rupert Murdoch to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

“As I read it, Rupert Murdoch was being polite. What he was telling his colleagues was: Newspapers are dead.”

The piece is a lament about what was and what might replace it.

Interesting that a newspaper person pronounces death of their medium of choice while many playing in the new world of digital media are writing about a new role for newspapers, providing analysis and depth not suited to the faster online delivery mechanisms.

Newspapers better engaging with readers, providing flexible access and embracing the digital world will have a future. Whether this will be enough (probably not) will be anyone’s guess. The key message from Rupert Murdoch was that the world has changed and it’s time for newspapers to react and participate.

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Mobile Media

The Media Centre hosted a two day event (Apr. 28/29) on mobile media. At their website you can access many of the presentations including these gems:

A video interview with Lucy Hood, Senior Vice President of News Corp. about challenges with their new mobisodes – one minute content clips sold for mobile phone access.

Strategic consultant challenged attendees to think outside the sequare when it comes to digital media content access – apparently suggesting connected Coke vending machines as news access points. “Imagine these machines as point of delivery for all kinds of digital media, especially if they are connected to the Internet like network storage devices. One bit of wisdom he shared was, “Design your future, try not to predict it.””

The Media Centre website is worth a trawl for more content from the event.

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Australian Financial Review Misses The Point

The op ep piece, Web putting readers in editor’s chair, on page 27 of the Australian Financial Review today (Apr. 30) is a half hearted catch up on the issues of blogging, citizen journalism, pressure from advertisers and disaggregation in mainstream media.

I’d provide a link to the story but as with pretty much everything on the AFR website you have to pay to access it. That alone says something about their connect with media changes.

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Google to rate and rank news for quality?

“Now Google, whose name has become synonymous with internet searching, plans to build a database that will compare the track record and credibility of all news sources around the world, and adjust the ranking of any search results accordingly.”

A quote from an interesting article April 30 from New Scientist about Google’s proprietary plans to analyse news sources in a move which is bound to infuriate many.

Now if it could be applied to the promises of politicians prior to an election we could let Google choose the government for us. Yeah, I like the idea of a company deciding what I can and cannot trust. I know not to trust some newspapers based on the views of the proprietors or the writer of an op. ed. piece.

The Internet has been a place of less influence over such things and while the Google patent is more about an automated analysis of content and history one has to wonder whether to trust it.

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Will Google buy a newspaper?

The LA Times ran an opinion piece on April 27 wondering what Google and Yahoo will do next in their news and information play. It wondered, tongue in cheek, how long it would before we saw the Google Street Journal. It’s good to see newspapers wondering about their future and how the more cashed up search engines which have become such successful competitors will deal with the more traditional media companies.

It’s only a matter of time before a Yahoo or a Google decides to buy an old media company in order to differentiate itself by offering high-quality, proprietary news. Or a company like Amazon could buy a prestigious newspaper publisher and reinvent itself as a portal, leapfrogging over those that treat news updates as a commodity.

Business schools would tell us that such takeovers are to be expected. At the Board table it will be buy buy buy. Why? Because they have the cash and will see mastheads as valuable additions o their already respected brands.

Newspapers have the newsgathering and analysis expertise. Google buying a news organisation would enable them to take those assets and the masthead and release the content from the confines of the physical product as we know it today.

Refer to my posting a week ago on E-Paper. Google in the direct news publishing business and the commercialisation of E-Paper … now that’s a giant leap forward. But not so far forward from where we are today.

News stories want to be set free from the restrictions of newspapers where the needs of advertisers come first.

Amid the flurry of cheque writing for such take-overs there will continue to be plenty of small players focusing on news from their backyard in the belief that an era of local focus in the news and information business has started.

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ACCC and Rupert Murdoch see eye to eye

This opinion piece by Robert Gottliebsen in The Australian newspaper today reports comments made by ACCC Chair, Graeme Samuel, about the future media landscape. Check out this quote:

“It is pretty clear that the internet will be a key driver of the next wave of competition to the current media players, and the markets we have traditionally defined as ‘media’ will change. And the possibility is there for not one but hundreds of new competitors to today’s broadcasters,”

Then there is this from the ACCC website:

We are in the midst of a technological revolution which threatens to make the introduction of television look like a mere blip in the evolution of distribution of news, information and entertainment. The question for regulators and government alike is do these technological developments make many of our existing concerns about media regulation irrelevant?

Read the Samuel speech in full here.

The bandwagon of voices on this topic gets bigger every day.

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